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Indianapolis part of new federal STEM initiative

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President Barack Obama drew attention to girls’ science and engineering accomplishments Tuesday as he announced a new teacher training competition as well as a mentoring effort involving Indianapolis to improve and diversify the nation’s technological work force.

The president pointed out that men outnumber women studying and working in science, and that women earn fewer than one in five bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science.

“Half our team we’re not even putting on the field,” he said, after touring exhibits at the annual White House Science Fair. “We’ve got to change those numbers.”

Obama announced a new $35 million Education Department competition to train the best math and science teachers.

He also announced an expansion of AmeriCorps to help teach science and math courses to 18,000 low-income students this summer, and national science and math mentoring projects in Indianapolis; Chicago; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Allentown, Penn.; the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina; and Wichita, Kan.

The seven locations were chosen from 52 entries to the US2020 City Competition, which challenged cities to develop innovative models for dramatically increasing youth involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathmatics, or STEM, careers. The competition specifically focused on increasing STEM opportunities for girls, underrepresented minorities and children from low-income families.

TechPoint Foundation for Youth, a venture philanthropy organization dedicated to growing STEM programming for underserved students, will serve as the city's project manager for the Indianapolis plan. The pilot for Indianapolis' six-year plan will launch in August. It involves numerous not-for-profits and several businesses, including Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, First Internet Bank, Dow AgroSciences, Cummins, Rolls-Royce, ExactTarget, 3M, Interactive Intelligence and Raytheon.

"Indy is proud to answer the White House's call to get more boys and girls interested in STEM subjects," Mayor Greg Ballard said in a prepared statement. "One of the best ways to lift the economic fortune of our city and its residents is to adequately prepare them for the careers of tomorrow."

Obama on Tuesday noted that he often greets champion athletes at the White House, most recently the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. But he said accomplished students deserve such honors, too.

“As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners because superstar biologists and engineers and rocket scientists and robot builders, they don’t always get the attention that they deserve, but they’re what’s going to transform our society,” he said.

More than 100 students from more than 30 states took part in Tuesday's program.

Among the displays was a “concussion cushion” designed by a 19-year-old Maria Hanes of Santa Cruz, Calif., who aspires to be the first female collegiate head football coach. Two Massachusetts high school students, Olivia Van Amsterdam and Katelyn Sweeney, exhibited a rescue robot. Eighteen-year-old Elana Simon of New York, a high school senior and cancer survivor, described how her illness prompted her to become interested in cancer research.

And Peyton Robertson, a 12-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., wowed Obama with two inventions—“sandless” flood-retention sandbags and retractable bicycle wheels.

“If you can buy stock in Peyton,” Obama said chuckling, “you should do so now.”

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